Unflinching Stoinis, Pooran subject RCB to Monday blues

As many as 3,242 days lay between Wayne Parnell’s two IPL appearances, but he made an instantaneous splash at the Chinnaswamy, decked up in Bangalorean colors after having left as a Delhi Daredevil in 2014. Filling the boots of the injury-prone Reece Topley, he nicked off both Deepak Hooda and Krunal Pandya in an over to reduce Lucknow Super Giants to 23/3. Mohammed Siraj had already taken care of Kyle Mayers, eliciting a ricochet from the man in form who poked away from the body in anticipation of late inswing as a couple of deliveries had beaten him on the inside edge. Add a slow-starting KL Rahul to the mix, and Lucknow, eyeing the highest chase at the venue, resembled a deer in the headlights.

Enter Marcus Stoinis. Built like an ox, he occupied the crease with a nonchalant demeanour that flew in the face of the gravity of the situation, a trait characteristic of Nicholas Pooran as well. It may come across as insouciance, but is actually a smokescreen that not only hides any signs of vulnerability or pressure but also keeps oneself centred by shorning the big moments off their power, thus amplifying focus on the task at hand. Stoinis adhered to the three B’s of range-hitting – base, balance, bat speed – and Pooran followed suit, pulling the rug out from under the Royal Challengers’ feet.

For all the strength in those Popeye arms, the emphasis on holding his shape and timing the ball was evident from the beginning of Stoinis’ knock as a mere push through covers fetched him four against David Willey. On the penultimate ball of the 9th over, the teams were locked at 72, albeit Lucknow had lost three more wickets. However, the credit for nudging the score to an even keel in the aftermath of a tepid PowerPlay went to Stoinis as he consigned Harshal Patel to a 17-run opening over. Taking the pace off the ball is his default setting, but the first two balls were bowled seam up, resulting in a pick-up flick and a slash over point. Harshal reverted to type on the third only to dole out a juicy full-toss, with the execution of the slower ball from the back of the hand going askew.

Impact Player Karn Sharma was greeted into the attack with a six, witnessing his drag-down sail over mid-wicket. Forced to rectify his length, the leggie overcompensated as the half-volleys earned Stoinis a pair of boundaries. Faf du Plessis turned to Shahbaz Ahmed with two right-handers at the crease, but Lucknow were certainly not in a position to take match-ups into account. The batters had to put anyone and everyone to the sword with the asking rate creeping up, and Stoinis planted a maximum each at the opposite spectrums of the ‘V’ in front. His 65 off 30 threw a spanner in RCB’s works, establishing the launchpad for his Caribbean comrade in the ardous quest for victory.

Pooran blazed away in a trice, garnering three fours and five sixes in his initial 13 balls. An emphatic lofted drive and a slog sweep razed the economy of Karn, who leaked 48 runs in three overs after having a pretty good day at the office against Kolkata Knight Riders. Parnell was parsimonious with the new ball but his return to the firing line with the equation standing at 59 off 36 saw Pooran upstage Ajinkya Rahane’s record for the fastest fifty in IPL 2023. He reached the milestone in just 15 balls, four fewer than the Chennai Super Kings opener whose white-ball career experiences a second wind.

‘’We knew that the game was on,’’ Pooran reflected. ‘’Stoinis kept us in the game and I knew this was a nice wicket. We could chase even over 50 in the last four, it was about cashing in. The second ball I came in and smashed a six. It isn’t about getting a look in, if it is in my slot then I will smash it for six. Over the past couple of years, I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to finish games. Today also I wanted to finish the game, but got out in the end. I hope this is the season for me; I’m in a good space and state of mind. Just want to enjoy my cricket, play with a smile, entertain and win games for my team.’’

RCB managed to give their bowlers adequate cushion on a pocket-sized ground that laid out a featherbed as usual, before the Monday blues arrived in the form of LSG. It was the fifth occasion in IPL history when the top three raised fifties, with the ebullient efforts of Virat Kohli and Glenn Maxwell allowing Faf du Plessis the luxury to scrap until he discovered his mojo.

‘’Just looking at the wicket, from 7-14 it was quite slower,’’ du Plessis observed, pointing a finger at the poor harvest of 48 runs from those 42 balls. ‘’I was struggling for most part of my innings. Was happy to give strike back to Kohli, sometimes you have to scratch. When I started hitting a few of the middle I got my flow back.’’ Du Plessis and Maxwell added 115 off 50 for the second wicket, in comparison.

Momentum was as volatile as nitrogylcerine in the home stretch of the crackerjack of a contest. Ayush Badoni scooped Parnell to perfection but as luck would have it, his bat disturbed the stumps in the process. The hosts showed the stomach for a fight, removing two tailenders cheaply. A Super Over was on the cards had Harshal succeeded in his run-out attempt at the non-striker’s end, but instead the thrill-a-minute spectacle boiled down to a last ball finish where Dinesh Karthik fumbled and LSG scampered for a bye. Avesh Khan hurled his helmet onto the turf in jubilation. It may have developed a crack, much like the hearts of the RCB loyalists.